Editorial: The case for a train viaduct in Palo Alto | February 1, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 1, 2019

Editorial: The case for a train viaduct in Palo Alto

Compared to a berm, trench, hybrid or tunnel, a viaduct alternative offers more

Palo Alto is only a couple of months away from deciding its "preferred" option (or options) for eliminating the four Caltrain grade crossings in town. This will then lead to full-scale engineering and financial analyses prior to submitting a plan to Caltrain for approval and seeking funding help from public agencies.

In a multi-pronged public-engagement process that has struggled to gain the full attention of the community over the last few years, none of the alternatives other than the completely unrealistic option of putting the tracks underground has emerged as a favorite, or more accurately, the least objectionable.

The most common solution, employed by other cities on the Peninsula over the last decade or longer, is a hybrid approach that raises the tracks on earthen berms using imported dirt and lowers the streets that had been at grade so that cars go under the raised tracks. It's the least expensive option, but it creates a rather massive and continuous barrier down the middle of the city.

A second alternative under consideration is a much more expensive "trench" option, in which dirt is excavated and trucked away so that the tracks can be submerged but not buried. The road crossings then go over the open trenches. One major problem with this approach in Palo Alto is the fact that the trench would have to begin south of Oregon Expressway and would run into several creek crossings that would need to be engineered with pumping stations to get the water flow over or under the trench, requiring approvals from multiple regional, state and federal agencies that aren't by any means certain.

For obvious reasons, neither of these options is very attractive. They solve the grade-separation problem but provide no other benefits to the community.

While there is much investigation still to be done, we believe the viaduct option offers Palo Alto not only a solution to a problem but an opportunity to create something truly magnificent for the community — a greenbelt corridor through the center of town.

Imagine raised tracks on concrete pillars from south of downtown to north of San Antonio Road with landscaping and bike, walking and running paths underneath, enabling people to travel almost the entire length of the city away from automobile traffic except when crossing Meadow Drive and Charleston Road.

Since there would be no need for high security fencing to keep people away from the trains, the entire length could be an attractive set of paths that would encourage recreation and transportation without getting into a car or navigating city streets on bike or foot.

Unlike a trench or berm solution, a viaduct would require little earth movement or fencing and open this valuable right-of-way to public use.

Opponents of the viaduct alternative almost succeeded in getting this option eliminated by the city last year because of widespread but unsubstantiated fears that a viaduct would be ugly and trains running on elevated tracks would create unacceptable noise. Some argued it would be impossible to build an elevated train in Palo Alto because of soil and bedrock conditions, assertions without supporting evidence. Viaduct highway and train platforms exist around the world, even over bodies of water, and there is no reason to rule this alternative out for that reason.

There is also not enough information yet to determine why a viaduct would need to be either ugly or noisy. With the Caltrain system converting to all-electric train engines, and with good noise inhibiting design of the viaduct, it is likely that trains will be significantly quieter than current conditions. Only the infrequent diesel freight trains would continue to rumble through town, but without any horn-blowing.

One big unknown is which of these options Caltrain would accept. There are indications that Caltrain may try to insist on bypass tracks in south Palo Alto where the right-of-way widens, meaning four sets of tracks would need to be accommodated, creating serious problems for any of the design alternatives.

An important "final" community meeting is set for March 27 at the Mitchell Park Community Center to hear from the public. We hope to hear enthusiasm for pursuing the viaduct plan, which could transform the way we use bikes, skateboards and our own two feet to transverse the community in addition to solving the problem of at-grade crossings.

Comments

48 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 5:33 am

viaducts, will be like highway overpasses; transmits noise much farther, and will be a magnet for homeless people looking for space to set up camp.

I would rather see Alma reconfigured with underpasses at W.Meadow, Charleston and Churchill. Then there would be no stoplights from Homer to Rengstorf, and would practically eliminate backups on Alma. Traffic wanting to cross the tracks would then only have stoplights when trains are passing. That would do more to help traffic than trying to eliminate grade crossings.


24 people like this
Posted by Careful on Viaducts
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 9:17 am

Caltrain’s own recent “moderate” projection is 24 trains per hour or 1 every 2.5 min not counting the time it takes for the crossing gate to go up and down. So we need some grade separations somewhere. But vital information is missing here about viaducts.

Height - estimate about 22 feet says CalTrain and consultant. There is the basic viaduct structure, then the rail cars and the electrical poles on top. Also the solid sound walls on each side of the tracks (yes, up there!) to muffle the train noise, especially the very noisy diesel freight trains 2-3 times a day), and to provide privacy for homes along the tracks but an unpleasant ride for passengers.

Noise - sound walls are to shield adjacent homes from the considerable noise freight and even electrified trains make when elevated. But studies show that noise bounces from out of sound walls to project a half mile away. So the noise will go into our neiborhoods.

The examples we are told to look at of viaducts include San Carlos, but the examples are not similar in effects cause they don’t go by mostly residential areas on one, let alone both sides as in PA. And the slides the city consultant shows never shows viaducts by residential areas.

Berkeley undergrounded BART long ago rather than accept a viaduct or other awful alternatives. Don’t get too happy about a viaduct. It’s a huge concrete structure the likes of which our small city has never seen. It may be the only solution available due to geologic and hydrologic issues in N PA, but S PA may have other options and if so, we all should support that if feasible for the good of our town and our city.


6 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:00 am

"I would rather see Alma reconfigured with underpasses at W.Meadow, Charleston and Churchill."

Your statement is ambiguous. Do you mean bike/ped underpasses or automobile underpasses?

"Then there would be no stoplights from Homer to Rengstorf"

How would you arbitrate traffic contention between Alma and the sidestreets? Regardless of whether those streets cross the tracks they still cross Alma and make turns.

"Traffic wanting to cross the tracks would then only have stoplights when trains are passing. That would do more to help traffic than trying to eliminate grade crossings."

Implicit in your statement is that the existing train-crossing hardware would be left in place. This is not a bad idea given the flaws in the alternative ideas:

Berms and viaducts: too much controversy and public resistance.

Trenches and tunnels: costly and disruptive during construction (requires shoofly track on Alma), risk of flooding.

Do-nothing solution: no cost, no construction and no controversy.

There is no mandate from PCJPB, CHSRA, CPUC, FRA or anyone else to grade separate the right of way in Palo Alto. The city is free to separate or not as it sees fit. The installation of "quad gates" may be required but this is trivial compared to the alternatives.

Re: closing Churchill Ave.:

There is no upside to closing the Churchill crossing other than pleasing a nearby rail activist who happens to live on Churchill. Closing the crossing will not improve traffic flow; it can only make gridlock worse as auto traffic seeks other routes such as Embarcadero. Closing the crossing is a truly bad idea. Best to leave it as is.


34 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:02 am

A viaduct will serve several another purpose besides carrying passenger trains and transmitting train noise efficiently. It will also provide a convenient homeless shelter for thousands of people. Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:12 am

@ >> "There are indications that Caltrain may try to insist on bypass tracks in south Palo Alto" <<

Caltrain won't "try to insist", if they need bypass tracks they will just build them, its their land.

It would be amusing if Palo Alto payed for an expensive viaduct and then Caltrain built it's bypass tracks on a low-cost solid berm running parallel to the viaduct.


55 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:24 am

A "viaduct" is just a elevated freeway for trains.

It is crazy to build something that every enlightened city in the world is working at tearing down, in order to reverse the blight caused by these monstrosities.


5 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:33 am

"Caltrain’s own recent “moderate” projection is 24 trains per hour or 1 every 2.5 min"

I'm not putting any credence in this.

First of all, there will NOT be "24 trains per hour". This figure does not take into account the difference between peak and off-peak hours. There will not be 24 trains per hour at all hours of the day and night. Just look at a Caltrain timetable. There will be a morning and evening rush hour and off-peak hours. Overnight there will be a freight train every few hours. This cruft is being fed to the public by Caltrain.

They'll need more passengers to ride the added trains and more personnel to operate them. Where will this onslaught of demand for Caltrain come from? They would lose money running empty trains with no passengers paying fares. I believe this propaganda is being put forth by Caltrain to justify electrification, new train sets and grade separation by cities. There sure as heck won't be trains every 2.5 minutes during off-peak hours, say 10 am to 3 pm, outside of morning and evening rush hours.

"The examples we are told to look at of viaducts include San Carlos"

Holly Street in San Carlos is not a viaduct. It is a hybrid crossing and has been considered by CPA. Get your facts right.

"studies show that noise bounces from out of sound walls to project a half mile away"

Can you cite your "study" or are you making this up to try to make your point?


39 people like this
Posted by GSC
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:35 am

This is an editorial, and so it's a subjective. That's fine. It offhandedly discounts solutions other than the viaduct. I disagree with the solutions it discounts. It also offhandedly disregards concerns with the viaduct option. Those concerns about noise and ugliness are valid. Imagine looking out your window and seeing a train going by, twenty feet in the air. It will be loud, and certainly less attractive than a view of the trees and hills. A viaduct will not be "magnificent" as the author claims. It will be an eyesore.

The writer seems to like the viaduct option because it would be cheaper and easier than the other options. I'd rather see our city invest in the best long-term option instead of going with a cheap but inferior solution that would detract from the city for decades to come.


17 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:47 am

OK, I give up. Let's just either close crossings (e.g. Meadow) or build underpasses (e.g. Charleston). Yes, sigh, some houses will have to go.

The viaduct is absolutely the worst option. The only good thing about it is that maybe in the 22nd century they can turn it into an elevated park: Web Link



28 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:54 am

We like the idea of the viaduct. Cities are pushing back on elevated car freeways because all the on-ramps and off-ramps create dangerous and polluting car traffic in their neighborhoods, but public transit is just the opposite by reducing car traffic. BART is elevated in many areas and the noise from BART is much less than the noise from the existing surface Caltrain.

A big plus of the viaduct is that the city can build more sidewalks and bike paths under the viaduct to connect neighborhoods that are currently separated by the tracks, for example connecting Midtown to the California Ave business district or building safer bike routes to Gunn High School or Paly.


49 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:55 am

A viaduct would be better than a horrible berm dividing the town in two, at least.

However, "landscaping and bike, walking and running paths underneath" goes a little far. We all know that it will be full of vagrants, illegals, and drug dealers, like every other underpass in the state.


8 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:58 am

"A viaduct ... will also provide a convenient homeless shelter for thousands of people."

Thousands? I don't think so.

Given that CPA has done nothing about the accumulation of R.V. dwellers across El Camino from Paly, this is a legitimate concern. Imagine if there had been a fire at the Oakland homeless encampment shown in the video.

"It would be amusing if Palo Alto paid for an expensive viaduct and then Caltrain built its bypass tracks on a low-cost solid berm running parallel to the viaduct."

A cruel joke but amusing. And there's nothing to prevent them from doing that. It's their land even though it's within the Palo Alto city limits.

"This is an editorial, and so it's a subjective. That's fine. It offhandedly discounts solutions other than the viaduct."

It's the second pro-viaduct editorial in about as many weeks. I'm beginning to wonder what's up.

"I'd rather see our city invest in the best long-term option"

Well of course you would.

"less attractive than a view of the trees and hills"

Are you prepared to see Alma street cut in half with a RR track on one side with trains barreling down the street while a trench/tunnel is built?


35 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:15 am

“Are you prepared to see Alma street cut in half with a RR track on one side with trains barreling down the street while a trench/tunnel is built?”

I, for one, certainly am. A couple years of inconvenience is insignificant compared to the decades I’ve invested in this town. Palo Alto is worth saving from the spreading urban blight of the Bay Area.


4 people like this
Posted by gary mahany
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:24 am

Very good synopsis of the rail crossing options.
However the expenses of long term maintenance and the price of moving underground utilities for the trench or tunnel options compared to the viaduct is not mentioned.
I want to state that I am in favor of the viaduct.


7 people like this
Posted by Lucy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:26 am

Has anyone thought about how the technology of Elon Musk's Boring Company might make the tunnel option more feasible? Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:28 am

"A big plus of the viaduct is that the city can build more sidewalks and bike paths under the viaduct"

Provided Caltrain (PCJPB) agrees to lease the land to the city.

At this late stage in the discussion I hope you're aware that CPA does not own any of the rail infrastructure in Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by gmahany
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:29 am

Very good synopsis of the rail crossing options.
However the expenses of long term maintenance and the price of moving underground utilities for the trench or tunnel options compared to the viaduct is not mentioned.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:43 am

The space underneath a viaduct can be sold off and used, or rented, or leased and with innovative ideas, can be very useful. Web Link Here's how it is done with pictures of what it can look like.


35 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:46 am

"Very good synopsis of the rail crossing options."

No, it's a poor synopsis, full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

I'd like to know who wrote this editorial which amounts to a hard sell of the viaduct option. It wasn't written by a disinterested party; that much is apparent.

"We hope to hear enthusiasm for pursuing the viaduct plan"

Who is the "we" in the above call to action? All it says in the byline is "Spectrum".

I smell a shill.


28 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:51 am

"The space underneath a viaduct can be sold off"

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!

No way is Caltrain PCJPB going to part with that land. They haven't even hinted that they would be willing to sell it. Even if they were, Palo Alto could probably not afford it.

It's irresponsible for to claim that the ROW could be sold. That's either naive or the mark of a shill.


29 people like this
Posted by DES
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:56 am

Clearly the residents want either a tunnel or a trench. The collective and collaborative "wisdom of the crowd" is pretty clear on this, a judgment which the elected leadership continues to resist. It's time to the city council to figure out how to get this financed, and how to get this done.

The present configuration has served this city for 75 years. Now we need a solution which will serve this city well for the next 75 years, namely a tunnel or a trench.


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2019 at 11:57 am

@Lucy - Elon has stated that he cannot help Caltrain. His current technology is barely usable for small cars and not close to being practical for for trains.


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 12:09 pm

"Has anyone thought about how the technology of Elon Musk's Boring Company might make the tunnel option more feasible?"

Musk's magic tunnel machine would face the same hurdles as any other tunnel-boring technology.

There are two design constraints associated with a trench or tunnel:

1) The distance between San Antonio Road and Adobe creek. This will never change.

2) The maximum 2% grade permitted by PCJPB (Caltrain). This is unlikely to change.

It then becomes a simple calculation to determine the maximum depth to which the trains could be submerged.

It remains to be seen how deep the trains would have to be submerged in order to pass beneath Adobe and Barron creeks, both of which would have to be diverted to make way for the tunnel/trench below.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 12:15 pm

"Has anyone thought about how the technology of Elon Musk's Boring Company might make the tunnel option more feasible?"

Elon Musk's technology is a car elevator, he bores his tunnels using an standard off-the-shelf tunnel boring machine made by others. A car elevator is useless for a train.


4 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 1, 2019 at 12:24 pm

James Thurber is a registered user.

Save money - just block off the current roadway / railroad interface crossings. Concrete is cheap. You can build simply "U" turn sites for cars, who forgot the railroad crossing is closed, to turn around.

Some people might complain but ultimately everyone will figure out a way to get through / over or under the tracks using EXISTING roadways. The entire "project" will cost less'n $20,000 including all labor and the extension of the fencing to keep pedestrians away from the tracks.


27 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 12:25 pm

Given that there is no byline for this editorial, it is safe to assume this is Weekly publisher Bill Johnson pushing the elevated freeway for trains. A few years ago he was pushing the goofy idea of building housing on top of municipal parking garages, so consider the source.


16 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Anything would be good. This morning at 8:25am, two cars driving north on Alma were turning left onto Churchill but wanted to squeeze through the yellow light so one ended up sitting on the tracks, the other behind. Of course, the Alma light turned green and the one car was blocking the Alma South cars, which began to honk. Then, the bells began and the gate dropped. Somehow, the car backed up off the tracks, hopefully learning a lesson, but doubt it.

I would prefer they close Churchill to cars. These cars drive dangerously close to the students who bike in the mornings. It's definitely a safety issue to be considered. And the cars backed up that are driving on Churchill are irresponsible with stopping at the crosswalk at the Paly entrance. All it takes is one driver whose caffeine has not kicked-in yet and they hit a biker. There are so many near-misses at that crosswalk. They really should put a traffic guard there. Who wants their child hit by a car?


31 people like this
Posted by Lets_see_leadership
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 1, 2019 at 1:36 pm

The viaduct will:
-carry noise far and wide in south palo alto, and decrease home values
-attract homeless encampments/trailers, and decrease home values
-be an eyesore, and decrease home values
-might be dangerous to nearby houses because of earthquake derailment risk, and decrease home values

If you total up all the home value decreases, they far exceed any cost of a tunnel, or a hybrid, or ANY other option.

Also, let's think about the tunnel/trench a bit:
-it improves property values
-it provides jobs during its construction. These are local jobs.
-it shows that Palo Alto is a forward thinking city, which you'd expect from it's highly educated population.

Let's commit to the tunnel/trench option, and let's justify every last pound of concrete in the cost estimate, and wring out all the inefficiencies. We can do it!

(Yes, I'm willing to pay for this. I'm already paying >$20K/year in taxes, and I'm willing to pay double!).



10 people like this
Posted by Mickie Winkler
a resident of University South
on Feb 1, 2019 at 2:29 pm

Palo Alto's technical consultant AECOM tells us that the viaduct option is the only one that:
• does not require a shoofly (temporary set of tracks)
• does not require lowering and/or lengthy closures of any Alma intersections
• does not require lowered or fenced roads across or under tracks (best bike/ped experience)
• does not require easements (such as trench tiebacks which require tree removals and prohibitions)
• does not require any private property (home or yard) takings
• does not divide community (allows continuous visual & physical connectivity, landscaping, linear parks, paths, etc.)
• does not require unduly steep grades
• does not leave a fully-fenced community-dividing 3rd freight-only track on the surface
• has the shortest & least disruptive construction period—not several years

Contrary to many opinions expressed above, train noise can be baffled.
And a viaduct can be attractively designed.


5 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 2:34 pm

@ >>If you total up all the home value decreases, they far exceed any cost of a tunnel, or a hybrid, or ANY other option. <<

Really, my back of a napkin calculation shows you could buy outright every property that abuts the railroad between Barons creek and San Antonio for only $150 million.

Build an elevated berm, demolish every property on the West side of the track and plant a park with bamboo screens and trees and cycling paths, it would be less expensive than a trench.


4 people like this
Posted by thetruthplease
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Mawris: Please support your claim:

"No, it's a poor synopsis, full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations."

so we can better understand your concerns.

thanks...


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:16 pm

@TBM,

You cannot have any type of elaborate landscaping under an elevated freeway. Police need to be able to observe the area under any elevated transportation infrastructure from a passing patrol car. Areas obscured from observation just invite all kinds of nefarious activities.


7 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Ahem: since trains always and already have unfettered and unobstructed priority over cross traffic, tracks at any elevation are “freeways for trains.”

So the question really is just whether you want your “freeway for trains” cutting across town dangerously in your face at eye-level atop a solid berm or completely up and out of the way allowing for a greenway, paths and unprecedented and unfettered cross-town connectivity where it hasn’t been since the Caltrain line’s construction in 1863.


Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:52 pm

>> Imagine raised tracks on concrete pillars from south of downtown to north of San Antonio Road with landscaping and bike, walking and running paths underneath, enabling people to travel almost the entire length of the city away from automobile traffic except when crossing Meadow Drive and Charleston Road.

This trail corridor sounds like it would deliver all the value of Park Blvd which is about 30 ft. south of where they're thinking of putting the viaduct. Park is a road, but it's all residential and so far off the main corridors that it gets very little traffic.


12 people like this
Posted by Lets_see_leadership
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 1, 2019 at 3:59 pm

@TBM

A few points:
1) compound interest!

If houses decrease in value from 150M to 100M, then over 30 years the total value lost is 216M, because the principal has decreased (assuming 5% price appreciation yoy). (I think 5% is conservative for this area, but also does not include inflation -- so it's probably a wash).

2) you're not including the price reduction for all the houses that do not directly abut the tracks -- these house prices will go down too.

There's ~70 to 100 houses that abut, and probably 300 to 400 more that will be affected in some way. At 2M per house that's a total value of $1B of housing that's being affected. It's not unreasonable to assume that this $1B of housing will decrease in value by 5 to 10%. Using compound interest, that $200 to $400M in 30 years. That money is gone. It's gone because we chose the more expedient choice in 2019.


23 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Do it once and do it right. I live on Alma and am willing to put up with the disruptions associated with a trench or a tunnel as this will be a win-win, improving connections across town and reducing noise. If Caltrain and Palo Alto have any sense, they would allow construction over the trench, in short sections, to help pay for construction as has happened in NYC and in SF.

While there would be engineering issues relating to Matadero and Barron Park Creeks, calling them creeks is a stretch. They are concrete lined culverts that even now are now not properly maintained to prevent vegetation from obstructing high water flows.

Viaducts are hated the world over. One big reason that San Mateo and Santa Clara County voted against BART, back in the day, was because BART proposed an elevated railway for San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

Frankly I would be terrified about what would happen in a major earthquake if an elevated train was going past my house.

If we can't afford a trench, I would vote for Menlo Park's solution (not currently on the list for PA) of underpasses like Page Mill and Embarcadero, leaving the train as is. I believe this would be the cheapest, as long as Alma stayed at grade and did not directly connect to the underpasses. Yes traffic would increase in surrounding neighborhoods, but it already does as Alma regularly hits capacity during commute hours. If I want to cross the tracks at 5PM, when cars back up from E. Meadow to Loma Verde, I turn right on Alma, right on Loma Verde, right on Ramona and right on E. Meadow. It is much quicker.


9 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:09 pm

"so we can better understand your concerns."

Follow the thread. I'm pretty forthcoming about voicing my concerns which are generally technical in nature.

I've already posted in this thread about the feasibility of a tunnel/trench due to grade and distance from San Antonio Road.

I also have concerns about the possibility of a trench/tunnel flooding and the consequences thereof.

A viaduct has the fewest technical problems but it is very polarizing. There is such public outcry over it that it may not fly when it comes time to ask residents/taxpayers to finance it.

As many years as grade separation has been discussed in Palo Alto, there still seem to be misconceptions about who owns the right of way (PCJPB, not CPA) and the feasibility of developing on that land, either over a tunnel or under a viaduct.

Due to the public resistance to berms/a viaduct, and the technical hurdles of a trench/tunnel, the do-nothing approach with the installation of quad gates is looking pretty good. Palo Alto's share of the measure B money could pay for quad gates if that money is still available whenever CPA makes up its mind.

A lot of wheel spinning could be avoided if we could get an idea from AECOM of the feasibility of a trench/tunnel, such as the depth required and whether that depth could be achieved given the distance between Adobe creek and San Antonio road and PCJPB's limit of a 2% grade as I have posted above.

If you have any questions, ask.

CPA = City of Palo Alto

PCJPB = Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, owners of the rail infrastructure on the peninsula


Like this comment
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:25 pm

"I would vote for Menlo Park's solution (not currently on the list for PA) of underpasses like Page Mill and Embarcadero, leaving the train as is."

I believe this option has been studied and would require the taking of many residential properties at $2 - $3 million each.

Taking residential properties is about as polarizing as building a viaduct.


11 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:30 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Just put the major cross streets under the train similar to Embarcadero and Oregon Expressway. Any option except maybe a tunnel, will look horrible and split the city in half! I feel for the people that live anywhere close to the train if a viaduct is chosen!!


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:44 pm

I believe the reason homes are needed to make Charleston, Meadow and Churchill go under the track is for the ramps so that Alma can connect.

However, has any thought been put into not having ramps to connect to Alma?

If there were no ramps then each would be "through traffic only". It would mean that any traffic that wanted to connect on Alma and the 3 cross streets would have to use Middlefield or ECR presumably. However, it would probably make traffic on Alma flow with more efficiency and also the 3 cross streets which would help all of these routes.

The downside would be looking to see how traffic would be affected on ECR and Middlefield.

I think it is worth looking into that scenario.


15 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Wishful thinking is a registered user.

"or completely up and out of the way allowing for a greenway, paths and unprecedented and unfettered cross-town connectivity"

What a nice idea. A dream. If only we could wave a magic wand. But also completely unrealistic.

Unfortunately, this land belongs to the railroad. There is absolutely no evidence that the owners of the property the railroad sits on and leases to Caltrain would (ever) be willing to either sell the land or take on the expense of landscaping and ongoing maintenance. Or put themselves in the position of being liable and responsible for monitoring for other unpermitted uses by the public, such as homeless encampments. Why would they?


5 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:54 pm

"Just put the major cross streets under the train similar to Embarcadero and Oregon Expressway."

Please follow the thread and pay attention.

I just explained the challenge this presents in the post immediately prior to yours.

All of the simplistic ideas have been considered.

Elon Musk does not have a magical solution for Palo Alto up his sleeve.


5 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 4:55 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Evidently some have not been keeping up ...the new Menlo Park council has switched their preferred alternative from dipping only Ravenswood fully under the tracks to a so-called “hybrid” design, partially elevating the tracks and a new, reconstructed station on a berm across Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood. Since this only partially elevates the tracks, each of those roads and nearby intersections with Alma and Merrill and Garwood would also have to be partially be dipped down about 10 to 12 feet.

In addition, due to persistent and increasing interest in a fully-elevated viaduct which opens up east-west downtown connectivity and avoids the significant impacts of lowering any roads, cutting off driveways and relocating all the utilities thereunder, they have also directed staff to have AECOM (the same engineering consultants PA is using) to develop a fully elevated viaduct alternative.

Like any properly built skyscraper or strucure, properly built viaducts do not fall down in earthquakes ... and lots of them are in use and being built all the time. Honolulu is presently building a 20-mile rail transit system ... and it’s all viaduct. El Cerrito has the popular Ohlone Greenway along snd underneath the BART vuaduct. VTA LRT has viaducts that work quite well, as do many other cities and systems all around the US and world. Yes, like with anything, some get taken down and some are built with old but noisy steel (Chicago). And so?


17 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 5:09 pm

"Unfortunately, this land belongs to the railroad. There is absolutely no evidence that the owners of the property the railroad sits on and leases to Caltrain would (ever) be willing to either sell the land or take on the expense of landscaping and ongoing maintenance. Or put themselves in the position of being liable and responsible for monitoring for other unpermitted uses by the public, such as homeless encampments. Why would they?"

At last, someone with a handle on reality. Minor correction: Caltrain does not lease the land from anyone. PCJPB owns the land and Caltrain and all of the rail infrastructure up and down the peninsula. It is a consortium of the three counties served by Caltrain. It all used to belong to Southern Pacific until Choo-choo Jerry Brown took it off S.P.'s hands in 1980.

PCJPB would never part with the land. The best that can be hoped for is that CPA would lease a portion of the ROW and be responsible for its upkeep and law-enforcement responsibilities, as well as assuming all liability for everything. If somebody fell off their bike and busted their ass on this land, PCJPB would want nothing to do with it liability-wise; they are in the business of operating trains. It would all be on CPA.


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 5:22 pm

"has any thought been put into not having ramps to connect to Alma?"

Without ramps, how would the cross streets go under the tracks?

The concern is that homes on the sidestreets would lose their driveway access.


21 people like this
Posted by South Palo Alto
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:13 pm

Thanks for recommending what would turn out to be a new 2 mile long homeless encampment in South Palo Alto . A nice park would be perfect for them. Elevated freeways are viaducts and look at all the encampments under them.


45 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:15 pm

This is hilarious. A viaduct is dead politically.

But let's talk about it. I'm assuming that the viaduct will only be in South Palo Alto. There was all that complaining about having to rebuilt Cal Ave and Palo Alto for trenching or tunneling. So given we can't touch those two stations, it appears that a viaduct will be only between San Antonio Road to before Cal Ave. and be at grade in the north.

Yet another reason why the South Palo Alto folks will complain about the northern neighborhoods.

Yes. Dead politically.


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:19 pm

The real problem is there is no good way to integrate an obsolete 19th century technology, designed to connect cities separated by rural expanses, into the modern urban/suburban landscape with its dense population and highly networked system of ground transportation.

The best and only satisfactory place for rail is secluded underground, in its own artificial 19th century time warp, but underground end-of-life support for an obsolete technology of this scale is very, very, expensive.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:24 pm

Those who favor a viaduct - can you please post a link to an image of the best-looking urban train viaduct you've ever seen?

If you just google for "train viaduct" they're all ugly. Like to see what a "good" example looks like.


10 people like this
Posted by pickpocket
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2019 at 6:45 pm

I like the viaduct option. Here is a video of the proposal: Web Link

A few points:

Yes JPB will allow paths on their land...note the attractive bike path currently between Paly and the rails.

Noise would be reduced due to non-horn electric trains. Homes that currently back up to the tracks will actually get an increased buffer.

Not sure why viaduct will be any more of a 'homeless magnet' than any other park in the city.


4 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 7:12 pm

"Like to see what a 'good' example looks like."

You have to look in Europe for that. Here is a whole gallery of attractive European rail bridges:

Web Link

Of course these structures are in Europe. Europeans are smarter than we are and have a rich architectural heritage. Here in America we build ugly gray poured-concrete things designed by Caltrans engineers in Sacramento. Many of those ugly gray things have no greenery, not even clinging vines to hide them.

Can you imagine if Stanford University were designed today in 2019? It would look like a penitentiary.

I don't know about the homeless situation in Europe but here we let them roam free like the third-world country America is fast becoming.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2019 at 7:13 pm

"Europeans are smarter than we are "

Two world wars last century says you're wrong.


3 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 7:29 pm

"The real problem is there is no good way to integrate an obsolete 19th century technology, designed to connect cities separated by rural expanses, into the modern urban/suburban landscape with its dense population and highly networked system of ground transportation."

Then why don't you propose a solution? It would sure beat your incessant carping.

"Yes JPB will allow paths on their land...note the attractive bike path currently between Paly and the rails."

I'm not sure the bike path is on JPB property or else JPB would want money for it, i.e. a lease. Is the bike path actually on school-district property? I was told years ago that the high school was on land owned by Stanford University and PAUSD uses it under a 99-year lease.

We're not talking about a thin strip of land but the full width of the ROW. How much would JPB want to lease that land to CPA?

"Not sure why viaduct will be any more of a 'homeless magnet' than any other park in the city."

I have pondered this question myself. The only reason I can think of is that the structure provides cover in inclement weather.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 7:43 pm

I'm still thinking along the lines of no ramps to Alma.

If the tunnel was only one lane in each direction I can't see driveways being lost. If the tunnel was only one lane each way and there were no traffic lights or turning traffic there would be no stops for red lights so it might be just as efficient as cross traffic now that is being stopped for red lights, turning traffic and lowered gates.


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Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 8:17 pm

"I'm still thinking along the lines of no ramps to Alma.

If the tunnel was only one lane in each direction I can't see driveways being lost."

Tunnel? What tunnel? I thought you were having the cross streets go under the tracks as they exist now.

Anything that carries the trains must be expandable to four tracks per the PCJPB/CHSRA "blended approach". That covers a trench, a tunnel, a viaduct, a berm or a hybrid.


6 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 8:18 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Resident & @Mawris ... check out the Ohlone Greenway. A good example of a nice use of space created by a viaduct:

Web Link

Web Link





2 people like this
Posted by pickpocket
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2019 at 8:25 pm

Link showing that Paly bike path is actually JPB land: Web Link

I think getting JPB to lease the land to CPA (for trivial sum) for park/path will be the simplest issue to overcome. Of course CPA will have to undertake maintenance and liability.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 8:50 pm

@Mawris

The tunnel is really a road underpass, I described what I meant in an earlier post. I'm thinking along the lines of keeping the track at grade and 3 roads passing under the track and Alma, single lane in each direction, with no ramps to Alma. This would mean that there would be no turns on/off Alma across the tracks. Thought would have to be put into what routes that turning traffic would use as an alternative, but it could make most traffic move more efficiently and the most likely to be affected by no turns on/off Alma would probably be local as all others would use a different route to reach the underpass.

I am no traffic engineer, but I think it is worth investigating.


3 people like this
Posted by Kind Neighbor
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 1, 2019 at 9:44 pm

Town planning should have designed 4 tracks, separation, 3 lane Alma on each side 75 years back. Now the opportunity is gone.

1) Use quad gates
2) close down the car access through cross sections
3) Provide drones for emergencies
4) Develop the towns independently on both sides of the track.
5) Meet for festivals
Save money, save creeks, save encampment under, save honking noise, save homes from eminent domain and most importantly save all this time in discussion.

Within the next 10 years, cars will be driverless, we will have drones, who wants to worry about crossing the grade then.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 1, 2019 at 9:47 pm

Wow. I've rarely seen such emotional, unsubstantiated knee jerk reaction to a proposal. It's clear that the City's consultant needs to make a fact-based presentation to council of the fully elevated (viaduct) option so serious discussion can begin. But note: the consultant won't show pretty pictures - that's not their job.

In the meantime:
A national leader in transportation noise consultant stated simply, raising an electric train will not make it louder to nearby residents, and it may be slightly quieter. Freight diesels will be quieter too due to the curb on the elevated railway. (Don't ask me, just quoting - I'm not an acoustics engineer.)
And what the city and Caltrain decide to do with the land below is heavily influenced by the city - especially if the city will maintain it.
Finally, you get what you demand. If you demand an attractive series of bridges (viaduct) you can get it. Beautiful bridges fill coffee table picture books.
When the first reaction is OMG, the Martians are coming! it doesn't help rational discussion. Let the option be analyzed.


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 9:50 pm

@Marwis (a resident of Midtown),

I need to introduce you to a guy named Buster, who is a resident of Old Palo Alto.

You guys share the same taste in masonry railroad bridges from the golden age of steam, the same fascination with the minutia of railroad engineering, and the same obsession with building an elevated freeway for trains through Palo Alto.

I am a little surprised Buster isn't weighing in here on this issue. I hope he is OK.


3 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 9:59 pm

"Link showing that Paly bike path is actually JPB land"

Interesting. Nice find.

The question stands: does CPA lease the land from JPB who own it? If someone falls off their bike on the bike path and breaks their ass, does JPB or CPA get sued?

That's for a narrow strip of land. If you want the entire width of the ROW, Caltrain might want more than a "trivial sum".

"keeping the track at grade and 3 roads passing under the track and Alma, single lane in each direction, with no ramps to Alma."

You would have to lower the sidestreets to go under the tracks and this would affect driveway access of home near the tracks. I believe it has already been studied.


15 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:08 pm

Viaduct, also known as an elevated train freeway, is a lose/lose for Palo Alto. We spend millions of dollars, get more noise, get our city divided in half by a Berlin wall, all so a few people can get across the train tracks faster.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:29 pm

Dig underpasses straight under Alma and the tracks at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston, and only under the tracks at El Palo Alto. Stay within the existing street ROWs. No connections to Alma. Dig separate bike/ped U/Cs as desired. Done. No property takings required.

It can be that simple and inexpensive--or we can insist on maximizing complications and costs.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:36 pm

Alternative: Build the Mother of Berlin Berms. Build it strong and build it high.

Give the part of the city cut off to the west to Los Altos. Because that area contains almost all of the jobs responsible for our infamous jobs-housing imbalance, we lose that headache as a bonus.


5 people like this
Posted by get what you pay for
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:48 pm

ew this is not pretty

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:50 pm

"Dig underpasses straight under Alma and the tracks at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston, and only under the tracks at El Palo Alto. Stay within the existing street ROWs. No connections to Alma. Dig separate bike/ped U/Cs as desired. Done. No property takings required."

It has been explained to you many times that this idea has been studied and won't work without taking residences no matter how many times you post it, so save yourself the effort.


2 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 2, 2019 at 12:47 am

Menlo park has recently changed its city council and changed its preferred grade separation alternative after resident feedback.

Split grade over three crossings is now preferred: Web Link
Note that this solution can easily accommodate 4 tracks within the existing ROW if there was no station.
Estimated costs $310 - $390 millions.


17 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

"It's the second pro-viaduct editorial in about as many weeks. I'm beginning to wonder what's up."

Viaduct support brought to you by the concrete industry.


8 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2019 at 2:34 am

"Menlo park has recently ... changed its preferred grade separation alternative after resident feedback.

Split grade over three crossings is now preferred:"

Web Link

Palo Altans would never put up with something like that. It can't flood, is too practical and it isn't plated with platinum. And what about those throngs of homeless folk and heroin addicts encamped on the ground? Can't you see them in the video? Maybe you need new glasses. And notice how they're all covering their ears in agony because the trains are emitting an ear-bleeding 1,250 dBA, the equivalent of sixty 747 jets. No, Palo Altans are smarter than their neighbors in Menlo Park, much smarter. Palo Altans have their own university so they must be smarter.


10 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2019 at 6:41 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@JR, as noted earlier, because trains have unfettered right of way (priority) over cross traffic, and are not slowed in the least by it, the tracks through Palo Alto are already a “freeway for trains.” So since lowering the tracks out of view appears infeasible, the real question for grade separation becomes whether you’d rather keep the tracks (“freeeway for trains”) dangerously in everyone’s way and face at eye-level, dividing the east and west sides of town with a solid wall-like berm or would you rather get the tracks and trains completely and safely up and out of everybody’s way, creating new open space for a greenway with paths, etc. underneath.

El Cerrito’s Ohlone Greenway along and under their BART viaduct is a great example ... many images online or just go visit with Google streetview or in person:

Web Link

Web Link



7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2019 at 9:13 am

@ Mawris

I think you completely misunderstand the idea a couple of us are discussing.

If an underpass for one lane in each direction was dug on the 3 crossings and there was no outlet, no turns, to Alma, it would mean that no property would need to be taken. It would effectively mean no outlet to Alma at each side of the underpass. A service area and a dead end would be each side of the underpass on what is now the second lane. There would be no turning traffic and no need for stop lights so the traffic on the cross streets and Alma would not be stopping.

The idea came to me when I was sitting in my car waiting for the lights/barriers to let me through. It occurred to me that there is very little turning traffic anyway and the lanes are reduced to one lane beyond the intersection. Whenever I decide to use a route to cross the tracks I have to work out which lane makes sense depending whether I am turning or going straight and for many reasons I could do either and still end up where I want to be. I think turning on/off Alma could be eliminated and most drivers could easily adapt to another route.

The underpasses would have to be wide enough for one lane with a bike lane, but by eliminating the turn lanes my brain senses enough space without taking property.

I would just like to see some thought put into this without dismissal as not going to work, because I don't think this particular scenario has been looked at.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2019 at 10:05 am

@ "If an underpass for one lane in each direction was dug on the 3 crossings and there was no outlet, no turns, to Alma, it would mean that no property would need to be taken."

The roads are not wide enough to host a ramp and still give driveway access to properties on both sides. Parcels that lose driveway access are not wasted, a condo can be build on the combined parcels with an alternative road access.
It would be more controversial than a berm.


4 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2019 at 10:09 am

Resident:

I've already asked and you haven't answered so I'll explain further and ask again.

In order to go under the tracks the streets must be lowered in a ramp-like fashion. How does your plan affect driveway access for the residences closest to the tracks?

You need to calculate the depth to which the streets must be submerged to go under the tracks with the proper amount of overhead clearance (figure 14 feet for the sake of discussion) and figure the slope and length of your "ramp". Now determine if your ramp affect any property's driveway access.

Two engineering firms and countless citizens have studied this problem so I'm skeptical that you've come up with a solution they haven't thought of.


7 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2019 at 11:21 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Resident, regarding the single-lane-in-each direction “ramp” idea: the roads are required to pass under the rail bridges above with 15.5 feet of clearance. Depending on type, the rail bridges are around 5-6 feet thick below top of rail (TOR). So roads must dip down at least 21 feet or so unless the tracks are raised. Due to ADA regulations, there must be sidewalks with grades not to exceed the maximum allowed for wheelchairs. In order to avoid property acquisitions, access to home driveways, walks, etc. must be preserved on both sides via frontage roads accessible to fire trucks, EMS, etc.

Have fun designing and selling that ... if you can?


16 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2019 at 12:09 pm

eileen is a registered user.

OK, let's try and get some of the billionaires in town to help with financing a tunnel idea. Look at Switzerland for ideas.
They are experts at boring tunnels even near streams and rivers. Costly, yes! But a viaduct will divide and ruin the city forever! Complete NO on that hideous idea!


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2019 at 2:55 pm

Reality check, thanks for your reasoned reply. If it has all been measured then I will defer, but nothing I read appeared to have discussed closing off Alma access. If that has been taken into account then the viaduct unfortunately makes most sense. Of course the best idea would be trench/tunnel option but if that really is off the cards then the viaduct has to be the next best option.


5 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2019 at 3:44 pm

"the best idea would be trench/tunnel option but if that really is off the cards then the viaduct has to be the next best option."

No grade separation at all is still a viable idea, given that it lacks many of the obstacles of the other options. Whether this onslaught of demand for Caltrain service ever materializes is anybody's guess.

Public resistance is the fly in the ointment of a viaduct, not technical shortcomings.

"let's try and get some of the billionaires in town to help with financing a tunnel idea."

I'm sure they'd be willing to part with a few million here and there. Maybe hit up Laurene Powell Jobs?


28 people like this
Posted by Tunnel is the only rational way
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2019 at 5:38 pm

The only thing that will create greenspace across town is a tunnel. The only thing that will leave us with a reasonable quality of life is a tunnel. Yes, it's expensive, but it's not out of reach, and you get what you pay for. We tunnel under the bay, this is not "rocket science".

As for the cost, this is a community that has just taxed itself almost a Billion dollars for its schools just to get a cosmetic face-lift and a few new two-story buildings. Surely we can see paying something on that order for a tunnel, and getting the rest by finally taxing the companies that seem glued to Palo Alto despite their negative impacts. The tunnel is the only option that truly creates value to offset the costs. I would much rather see the possibility of a bike- and scooter- (and robot-) way across town, with perhaps buildings built over on the downtown and mountain view sides. This would add so much to quality of life relative to the cost, which by the way, we would pay over 30 years or longer. We don't even have a head tax on businesses -- Mtn Vw passed one, it's about time we did.


11 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2019 at 7:10 pm

@Ahem

"The best and only satisfactory place for rail is secluded underground, in its own artificial 19th century time warp, but underground end-of-life support for an obsolete technology of this scale is very, very, expensive."

You keep hammering this assertion, but have you provided a single scrap of evidence to support it, even once? Please correct me if I'm wrong, because I haven't seen it.

I'm sorry to dispel your "alternative facts" but you're flat out wrong on so many aspects of Caltrain's operation. This isn't the first time you've made inaccurate claims and presented them as fact, either. Earlier, you asserted there was a (actually non-existant) "69 mph speed limit" at level crossings. In reality, it's 110 mph.

I don't understand why you have such a hatred of trains, but it gets really old, really fast. A modern train has as much in common with its steam-powered ancestors as a modern sedan has in common with the Model T. The electric EMU trains that Caltrain wants to use? Even less so.

I think before attacking people that have a "fascination with the minutia of railroad engineering," you'd do well to at least understand the broad principals.


6 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2019 at 8:02 pm

"you're flat out wrong on so many aspects of Caltrain's operation. This isn't the first time you've made inaccurate claims and presented them as fact"

You're too polite. You call them "inaccurate claims". I call them flat-out lies.

The relentless beating of the same old drum over and over again gets tiresome in a real hurry.


1 person likes this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Feb 2, 2019 at 11:12 pm

The Palo Alto Weekly has spoken. The viaduct is coming. Get your mind around it.

When it comes down to it, I doubt you could get 10,000 people in Palo Alto to support paying for an alternative to the viaduct. It's just that a small minority are very vociferous and think there opinion is the only right way. Isn't that the Palo Alto way>


Like this comment
Posted by Los Altos Resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2019 at 1:32 am

If that tunnel were not so expensive, and Palo Alto did not have those irksome creeks, the tunnel does seem like a nice way to solve the crossing and noise problems.

Palo Alto's tolerance of the cost is an unproven argument on both sides of the discussion. Instead of the endless argument, why not put a bond measure on the next ballot to learn how feasible it is? From the postings so far, no one is changing anyone else's mind; instead, the principal characters are repeating their beliefs.

If you can convince the undecided property owners, you get a tunnel. If you cannot, you eliminate that option.


7 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2019 at 4:17 am

@ "Tunnels... why not put a bond measure on the next ballot to learn how feasible it is?"

A ballot on a bond measure does not test feasibility, people would vote for it and then skip town when their taxes doubled.

No investor is going to lend $3bn to Palo Alto. The annual repayments would exceed the cities entire capital improvement budget for 30 years.

To prove Palo Alto's tolerance for cost, the ballot measure needs to ask if each household agrees to pay a $100,000 one time tunnel tax in Fiscal Year 2023.

33,000 households paying $100,000 each will just about cover it. Caltrain are not going to start digging holes on their property until the $3bn is in their account.


5 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2019 at 6:54 am

Putting the train in a tunnel is unlikely to work for one simple reason: most of the noise, the danger, the pollution and the blight along that corridor comes from the Alma traffic sewer. That we are blind to this speaks volumes about our auto-centric culture.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2019 at 7:07 am

"Do no harm" is the first commandment of medicine. There is no point in "preferring" the viaduct alternative-- it is the least desirable outcome. Don't build a viaduct just to "do something". We need to do something that will make things better. Let's do nothing for now, eventually bumbling our way into grade separation.


4 people like this
Posted by Abhra
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 3, 2019 at 10:43 am


A viaduct is a very expensive option, particularly if you're suggesting it be built along the length of the city:

1. it would need to be, and remain, compliant with seismic building codes. Which raises both, the initial building cost and future retrofits.
2. Sound seems to be a concern, and I don't know if the author lives near the tracks or not, but the trains are very loud even 2 blocks away today, and they aren't shy about using horns. Making a viaduct sound resistant is even more expensive.
3. The viaduct would have to be wide enough to handle emergency breakdowns and train evacuations.
4. Despite seismic compliance, a viaduct is naturally more susceptible to earth quakes, and a break in the bridge would take a much longer time to fix than with a berm or a trench.

Its doable and has some great benefits as mentioned in the article, but its prohibitively expensive, and less likely to get funding approved from public agencies.



13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2019 at 11:33 am

@Clem,

Within the next decade almost all of the vehicles traveling along Alma will be almost silent, zero emissions, all electric vehicles.

Train advocates are stuck in the 1960s waging a Quixotic war on a type of car that no longer exists.

Back in the 1960s when the the hippy generation convinced themselves that the train was the final solution to the "car problem", they made a big mistake by assuming automotive technology would remain stuck in the 1960s, in much the same way that rail technology got stuck in the 19th century.






8 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2019 at 12:52 pm

"33,000 households paying $100,000 each will just about cover it"

... until it gets halfway built and they discover they need more money due to those pesky "cost overruns" which drive the cost to double the initial projections. This always happens on public works projects like these. One need look no further than the Bay Bridge for proof.


5 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2019 at 1:00 pm

Whatever option is chosen, viaduct, trench, tunnels or berms, the grade separation project should extend no further north than Matadero creek.

The crossings north of Matadero creek are already grade separated: Oregon, Embarcadero and University. To re-engineer or reconstruct those crossings would be an egregious waste of millions and millions of dollars.

That puts the kibosh on the pipe dream of a citywide tunnel.


15 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2019 at 1:14 pm

@Ahem

"[...]in much the same way that rail technology got stuck in the 19th century."

Do you have any other function besides "repeat," Ahem? Just becuase you say it constantly, doesn't make it true. The fact you refuse to even defend yourself speaks volumes to how well your claims hold up umder scrutiny.


9 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2019 at 2:54 pm

@Ahem says "almost all of the vehicles traveling along Alma will be almost silent, zero emissions, all electric vehicles."

Tire noise is the dominant source of vehicle noise nowadays, so you can forget "silent" electric vehicles. The traffic sewer will remain, even with zero emissions.

In any event, it's 2019, and I demand to know: where is my flying car?


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2019 at 10:09 pm

""Dig underpasses straight under Alma and the tracks at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston, and only under the tracks at El Palo Alto. Stay within the existing street ROWs. No connections to Alma. Dig separate bike/ped U/Cs as desired. Done. No property takings required."

It has been explained to you many times that this idea has been studied and won't work without taking residences no matter how many times you post it, so save yourself the effort."

It has been so claimed but not explained, although I will concede that the concept could be misconstrued in innumerable pathological strawman configurations, such as your proposal to daylight the entire subroadbed, so as to "take" any number of properties a given misconstrual artist wishes to take for whatever excuse.

Or it can be implemented as proposed with all existing private properties left untouched. Choo choo choose.


9 people like this
Posted by Poohpa
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 4, 2019 at 3:25 pm

20th century solutions for a 21st century problem. The solutions for the proposed rail upgrade to date, whether they be a viaduct, trench, tunnels or berms are just not viable choices for a multitude of reasons. There is no win-win here, not even a win-lose... so fat I see only lose-lose. Every solution proposed without exception is too costly... disruptive... and environmentally destructive. Even if by some by some miracle, the political, cost, and engineering requirements were solved... they would not solve the problem of inevitable elephant in the room... the 'High Speed Rail' project. The 'High Speed Rail' project has not even been mentioned in these discussions... maybe it's because everybody thinks it's not going to happen... or maybe everybody knows the Caltrain corridor is too narrow for Caltrain tracks and high speed rail to co-exist.

In short... how do you expect to create solutions when all the problems have not yet been included, let alone defined. It is time to start thinking out of the box.


7 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2019 at 3:32 pm

@PooPah

"or maybe everybody knows the Caltrain corridor is too narrow for Caltrain tracks and high speed rail to co-exist"

Not true. There are some areas where there isn't enough space for extra passing tracks, but the majority of the corridor has enough space for 3-4 tracks. They'll just need to be smart with the scheduling so the fast trains don't get stuck behind the slow ones on the 2-track portions. That'll limit the maximum amount of trains that can run down the tracks, but it'll still be more capacity than a mere two-tracks offer.


10 people like this
Posted by Poohpa
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 4, 2019 at 5:27 pm


CallingOut... Thanks for confirming my statement "the Caltrain corridor is too narrow for Caltrain tracks and high speed rail to co-exist". I will add 'efficiently' to my statement. So.... " the Caltrain corridor is too narrow for Caltrain tracks and high speed rail to efficiently co-exist. All we need now is an inefficient billion $ high speed rail system.

Like I said... "It is time to start thinking out of the box". How about scraping Caltrain entirely... go mono-rail routed along Hwy 101 where most of the industry is located. Little disruption, and less cost. Make the existing Caltrain corridor a Peninsula Parkway... Open space, parks and bicycle path from Gilroy to San Francisco. Put the high speed rail system in a tunnel under Hwy 101... or rout it up Hwy 280... or... or...

Come on folks... start thinking out of the box


15 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2019 at 5:48 pm

Yes, the value isn't in Caltrain which is old, inefficient and inflexible, but in the right of way. Building a viaduct takes away below grade, surface and aerial options for any other significant use of the right of way.

PCJPB would love to have Palo Alto tied to Caltrain for the next several decades, but a viaduct is the worst option for folks that live here.


9 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Bocks
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 4, 2019 at 7:34 pm

How many more daily passenger miles could the CT ROW support if it was converted to a modern automobile expressway>


5 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2019 at 8:33 pm

CallingOut... Thanks for confirming my statement "the Caltrain corridor is too narrow for Caltrain tracks and high speed rail to co-exist".

That's not what he said. He said: "There are some areas where there isn't enough space for extra passing tracks, but the majority of the corridor has enough space for 3-4 tracks."

Take special note of the second part of the above sentence.

There's a big difference between grade separation and HSR. Grade separation is entirely within the purview of CPA, hence it gets discussed a lot here.

HSR is a statewide project run out of Sacramento.

"How about scraping Caltrain entirely... go mono-rail routed along Hwy 101"

That ship has already sailed. There's nothing stopping you from putting together a plan and convincing voters in three counties to finance construction and subsidize its operation. Until you do, Caltrain is operational here and now, keeping thousands of automobiles off the highways every day.


18 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 4, 2019 at 9:30 pm

ok, an editorial is an opinion, but, really, this reads like it's either written by the ACME Viaduct Construction Company, or by the cities rail consultant AECOM, which has been touting the viaduct option all along.

I completely disagree that for 'obvious' reasons the viaduct is the best alternative. I have agitated for a trench or tunnel as it in the long run, as in decades, it outs the train mostly out of sight. None of the other alternatives come close.

The notion that the land under and near the tracks will become a magic happy garden a unicorn greenbelt are ridiculous. Heads up people, that land is not yours, not the cities to decide what to do with it! IT belongs to Caltrain or Union Pacific, and it is exceedingly unlikely that they would relinquish any rights to THEIR land.


21 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2019 at 10:03 pm

Bill & Auda,

Yes, Caltrain can make antiquated rail vehicles appear to work reasonably well, but only because so much valuable real-estate and infrastructure is dedicated to serving so few people. Only 30,000 people or 1% of the peninsula's population of 3,000,000 use Caltrain, and then only for a fraction of their transportation needs.

I would guess that a typical Caltrain user only uses Caltrain for about 1/3 of their ground transportation passenger-miles. The other 2/3 of their passenger-miles are traveled on the peninsula's roads and highways.

Calling Caltrain "mass transit" is a misnomer. Caltrain is a boutique transit system. The only true mass transit system on the peninsula is the peninsula's system of roads and highways.


6 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 4, 2019 at 10:32 pm

"really, this reads like it's either written by the ACME Viaduct Construction Company, or by the cities rail consultant AECOM, which has been touting the viaduct option all along."

It definitely has the aroma of "shill".

"I would guess that a typical Caltrain user only uses Caltrain for about 1/3 of their ..."

Cripes, here he goes again.

bla bla stinkin' bla

Can't you learn another song? We're tired of this song and your meaningless statistics. Why don't you GUESS how many homeless will be camped out under the tracks or the sound level of the passing trains. You're always right.


6 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 2:32 am

@ "Poohpa re. Come on folks... start thinking out of the box"

What you describe a thinking out of the box are all ideas that have been explored and rejected years ago.

Here is the analysis of routing HSR on 101 and 280: Web Link
Here is the SF to SJ alternatives analysis: Web Link

Monorails are not the future, Duorails have evolved to be superior.

The purpose a transit system is to transport people. To be useful to has to go where people live, with stations in the center of the densest population.


10 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 7:36 am

Ahem and Auda D. Bocks argue from the position that Caltrain must surely carry a trivial number of people. Not so: the antiquated diesel system you see today has about the same person throughput as three packed freeway lanes, and expansion plans already in motion can easily push this to the equivalent of 8 freeway lanes.

There is no other technology on the horizon that comes anywhere close to providing this massive person throughput capacity while using so little space, time and energy. Hyperloops? Too small and wasteful of energy. Self-driving electric horseless carriages? Too slow (traffic is traffic) and wasteful of space and energy.

Mass transportation is a geometry problem, not a technology problem. Too often here in Silicon Valley everything is viewed as a technology problem. The train is still the future of mass transportation.


Like this comment
Posted by BruceGordon
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2019 at 9:40 am

BruceGordon is a registered user.

Where can I find the cost estimates for the various options?


14 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 10:13 am

@Ahem

"I would guess that a typical Caltrain user only uses Caltrain for about 1/3 of their ground transportation passenger-miles. The other 2/3 of their passenger-miles are traveled on the peninsula's roads and highways.

Calling Caltrain "mass transit" is a misnomer. Caltrain is a boutique transit system. The only true mass transit system on the peninsula is the peninsula's system of roads and highways."

Honestly, Ahem, are you a highway planner? Retired? Current? Your views on trains and mass transit are something straight out of the 50s, when there was no end to cheap gas and very little understanding of environmental issues.

Here's a fact for you: there is no other mode of surface transportation on Earth that can move as many people with as little energy as trains can. The name of the game is efficiency, and Ahem, the car can't even stack up.

Oh, "but you have distributed destinations," you say? "A train can't reach everywhere a car can." Well, it doesn't need to. I advocate for a multi-modal transportation solution. That means using trains AND cars. You advocate for a one-size-fits-all approach: cars uber alles. Sorry, Ahem, but there's uses for both.

Finally, before you interject and try to downplay Caltrain's ridership by representing it as a percentage of the total bay area commuters, try comparing Caltrain's ridership to that a SINGLE bay area freeway or street. I think you'll find the comparison much more favorable.

@Poohpa
Look, there's not much love lost for me and the HSR system. While I agree with the CONCEPT, I don't think there's anyone who'd disagree it's been poorly managed and mishandled. Honestly, it makes a bad name for HSR. Regardless, I don't see how you went from THAT to THIS:

"How about scraping Caltrain entirely... go mono-rail routed along Hwy 101 where most of the industry is located. Little disruption, and less cost. Make the existing Caltrain corridor a Peninsula Parkway... "

I thought everyone hated the viaduct because it'd be loud, disruptive, and out of context. Yet you're proposing replacing it with a literal freeway!? That's even worse!

Personally, as far as grade separation goes, I think leaving Caltrain as-is is a viable option. I'm not sure it's the BEST one - but it is viable, nonetheless. Both the embankment and viaduct are disruptive, and the trench and tunnel are pure fantasy thanks to their cost.

So, assuming we throw out the fantasies, we're left with three options: keep Caltrain as-is, built the embankment, or build the viaduct. The question you've got to ask then is: is the financial and visual impact of a viaduct or embankment worth the improvement in safety and traffic flow?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But that's the question people need to ask.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 12:37 pm

@ "Where can I find the cost estimates for the various options?"

For reference, in the Central Valley HSR crosses a 2 mile flood plain, a concrete viaduct was estimated to cost $111 million, an earth berm with culverts was estimated at $32 million. So in that case a viaduct was about 3.5 times more expensive than a solid berm.


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2019 at 2:14 pm

"is the financial and visual impact of a viaduct or embankment worth the improvement in safety and traffic flow?"

I keep asking if the onslaught of demand forecast by Caltrain actually materialize? It may, or it may just be propaganda put out by Caltrain.


8 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Bocks
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2019 at 3:54 pm

"Ahem and Auda D. Bocks argue from the position that Caltrain must surely carry a trivial number of people."

Balderdash. I challenge the prevalent presupposition that Caltrain must surely carry a superior number of people.

"Not so: the antiquated diesel system you see today has about the same person throughput as three packed freeway lanes, and expansion plans already in motion can easily push this to the equivalent of 8 freeway lanes."

Oh yeah? Prove it. Numbers, please. Clearly state all presuppositions, explicit AND implicit.

BTW, packed freeway lanes make for much safer grade crossings than million-pound metal consists going 80.


Like this comment
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 5, 2019 at 4:10 pm

"Prove it. Numbers, please. Clearly state all presuppositions, explicit AND implicit."

How about if y'all just drop it?


6 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 5, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Folks who have not been paying attention should do their own research, rather than asking the rest of us to assemble all the facts and figures they might need to catch up. In that spirit, here is a quick primer on freeways. Since most of us still drive alone, and a freeway lane carries 8,000 cars an hour at rush hour, let's say 10,000 people an hour. Each Caltrain carries about 1200 people at capacity, and at rush hour they are standing room only. So 8 trains an hour about covers a freeway lane, any more is gravy so to speak.


8 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Auda D. Bocks, here are the detailed numbers for 2016.

Web Link

It’s a bit busier now. I look forward to your detailed, referenced and quantitative rebuttal showing why you think Caltrain is carrying any fewer people than 3 packed freeway lanes. Good luck to you.


11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2019 at 5:24 pm

Clem Said:

"There is no other technology on the horizon that comes anywhere close to providing this massive person throughput capacity while using so little space, time and energy"

When you look at efficiency you need to consider space efficiency, time efficiency, energy efficiency, and capital efficiency, and when considering Caltrain you need to look at these efficiency over the whole trip (door to door) not just the efficiency of the station to station trip. Caltrain derives a large part of its efficiency from dedicating the ROW to serving so few people, rather than its technology. Caltrain serves 1% of the Peninsula's population, the network of roads and highways serve 100% of the Peninsula's population.

The vast majority of people have decided motor vehicles are overall the most efficient transportation system, and have despite the traffic voted with their feet and their pocketbooks.


12 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Old Steve, check your math. 8000 vehicles/hour/lane is more than two vehicles per second, which doesn’t pass the smell test. A packed freeway lane operating at 45 mph carries about 2000 vehicles per hour (see reference in link above) so you’re off by a factor of 4. Also, there are 5 trains per hour per direction in the peak, not 4. That throws your analysis off by a combined factor of 5, against the train of course.

It’s amazing to me how many people completely fail to grasp just how much Caltrain does for Palo Alto!


13 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 5:32 pm

“Caltrain serves 1% of the Peninsula's population, the network of roads and highways serve 100% of the Peninsula's population.”

Even if you accept this statement (sounds ok to me... 30k weekday users vs. 3 million residents?) it is also true that Caltrain carries about the same number of people as 3 packed freeway lanes.

Caltrain serves 100% of the peninsula’s population by sparing us far worse gridlock than we already have! Just imagine another three freeway lanes’ worth of traffic dumped onto peninsula freeways at rush hour...


5 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 5, 2019 at 5:34 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Thanks Clem,

I don't have all of that at my finger tips. 8 trains each peak is fewer than intended with the new trainsets, but it is breakeven for my freeway lane number (out of my ear). IF everybody relies on your 45mph/2000 vph/2400 people per hour, then the train really shines. I have been riding Caltrain since before it became Caltrain, so I am a booster, not a skeptic.


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2019 at 6:37 pm

Clem said:

"... is it also true that Caltrain carries about the same number of people as 3 packed freeway lanes"

Well, is it also true that if the Caltrain ROW was converted into a freeway for cars, instead of a free way for trains, it would carry about the same number of people as 3 packed freeway lanes... and provide them with a more efficient door to door trip?

There is no magic in rail technology. Given the Caltrain ROW just about any transportation technology (including bicycles) could carry about the same number of people as three freeway lanes.

Disclaimer: the above argument should not be construed as an argument for building a freeway for cars on the Caltrain ROW. I am against building any kind of above ground freeway, for cars or for trains, on the Caltrain ROW.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2019 at 6:40 pm

Caltrain doesn't REPLACE three lanes of freeway, it IS three lanes of freeway.


8 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 7:20 pm

@Ahem, you have to look at the growth potential, not today’s antiquated diesel vintage 1985 train. Look no further than BART, which carries up to 27000 people per hour through the Transbay Tube, almost double the people per hour of the entire Bay Bridge.
Web Link

On just two tracks, BART carries more people than a ten lane freeway. That is geometry, not technology. While poor old clapped-out diesel Caltrain achieves only 3 freeway lanes today, it’s not crazy to expand it to the equivalent people carrying capacity of an 8-lane freeway, using swift electric trains.
Web Link

If you question whether the demand exists, just ask yourself: if we added 2 lanes each way to highway 101 tomorrow, would they fill up with traffic?

Imagine an 8-lane freeway that is quiet, fast, non-polluting and serves the heart of Palo Alto. That’s worth a few homes and views disrupted by a new grade separation, no?


8 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Bocks
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2019 at 7:22 pm

"Auda D. Bocks, here are the detailed numbers for 2016.

It looks like a solid tie. That's hardly a reason to spend billions on an ugly resurrection of the late unlamented Embarcadero Freeway and Cypress Structure. Then we factor in the very valuable transportation flexibility offered at each terminus by using go anywhere autos instead of railbound trains, and it's easy to see it's time to begin digging up the tracks on our hoary commuter rail boondoggle.


6 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2019 at 8:06 pm

“Go anywhere autos,” especially electric and driven by software, will make an ideal complement for rail mass transit. They are to rail as capillaries are to the aorta, if you compare our transportation network to the circulatory system. They will improve irrigation of the extremities, expanding the reach of a system that will always need high-capacity, space-efficient, fast, energy-efficient mass transport at its core. This is about geometry, not technology, especially in our peninsular configuration.

The idea of tearing out the rail corridor and replacing it with squadrons of electric software-driven horseless carriages making long distance point to point trips on gridlocked road networks choking with thousands of other space-wasting individual transport pods each lugging around many hundreds of pounds of batteries is cute, but we all value our time, space, and energy, thank you very much. Don’t throw technology at a geometry problem, because that won’t solve anything.

Can we finally admit the continued presence of the rail corridor and return to a conversation about its grade separation?


11 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Bocks
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 10:52 am

"Can we finally admit the continued presence of the rail corridor and return to a conversation about its grade separation?"

Of course not. This is Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley doesn't pretty up hoary sesquicentennian modes, we think disruption here. You know, out of the box? Get off your old iron horse and get with the program.


8 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2019 at 12:34 pm

"Silicon Valley doesn't pretty up hoary sesquicentennian modes, we think disruption here. You know, out of the box? Get off your old iron horse and get with the program."

You seem oblivious to the fact that Caltrain serves 16 communities in 3 counties, not just Palo Alto. Caltrain has recently made major investments in electrifying the right of way, PTC and new train sets. JPB is not going to throw away that investment and take up the tracks because someone in Palo Alto thinks rail is outmoded.

Your repeated stumping here is futile and pointless. Get with the program, Auda.


8 people like this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 2:40 pm

So, Clem, why doesn't BART replace Caltrain and complete a comprehensive, round the Bay, single rail carrier service? Yes, the Peninsula needs rail-based, high-load, public mass transit. But even electrified, Caltrain will still be a go-it-alone, stand-alone, heavy-rail service, not managed, integrated and coordinated with all the other modes (e.g., buses) of public transit. The Bay area has too many independent carriers. An incoherent, cacophonous orchestra without a conductor. Getting anywhere around the Bay from point A to point B should be a breeze, not a challenge.


8 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 3:02 pm

> choking with thousands of other space-wasting individual transport pods

Well, Clem, let's run the numbers and see what's space wasting.

Let's generously say that a given Caltrain is 500 feet long, and travels at 50 MPH though Palo Alto. On the two tracks running through South Palo Alto with 46 trains in each direction, any point on a set of rails is occupied for only 5 minutes and 13 seconds out of a 24 hour day (0.36 % of a day). During the remaining 23 hours, 54 minutes and 47 seconds the Caltrain right of way is essentially useless. It isn't shared by any other form of transportation infrastructure, and building a viaduct precludes sharing a valuable right of way for the next, oh, one hundred years.

Sorry, you loose.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2019 at 3:55 pm

Marwis said:

"Caltrain has recently made major investments in electrifying the right of way"

Caltrain/PCJPB didn't make any investment. The money for electrification came from the US taxpayers through a federal grant. Caltrain/PCJPB is not profitable, has no money to invest in infrastructure or R&D, and is not creditworthy.

The Caltrain/PCJPB ROW is basically a little slice of Cuba, and Cuban style antiquated technology, running down the middle of the most vibrant region of technology and capitalism in the world.

Caltrain electrification has nothing to do with moving people efficiently. Caltrain electrification is all about helping real-estate developers with Party connections sell micro-units in the soon to be blighted areas next to the railroad tracks to gullible millenial worker drones.


4 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 6, 2019 at 4:09 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Electrified Caltrain EMU's will be quieter and run at higher average speeds if only due to better stopping and starting performance than the current diesels. BART does not go around the Bay thanks to Boards of Supervisors in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties in the early 60's. BART is also incompatible with the current limited Freight Rights owned by UPRR as successor in interest to Railroads that indeed date back 150 years. Those rights are not going anywhere either. FTA, Caltrain, and HSR funds have all been used to fund electrification (yes, all are taxpayer based). No US transit system operates on farebox revenue alone, does that mean we should tear them all up??


4 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2019 at 4:19 pm

"Caltrain electrification is all about helping real-estate developers with Party connections sell micro-units in the soon to be blighted areas next to the railroad tracks to gullible millenial worker drones."

Oh, that really solves the whole grade separation problem. I'm so glad you posted it. We need to do it like they do in Cuba with their gullible millennial worker drones. And we need to find some party-connected developers. That will solve everything.

Forget all this electrification. We should be buying steam engines for this 19th-century technology.


12 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Box
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 4:28 pm

"You seem oblivious to the fact that Caltrain serves 16 communities in 3 counties, not just Palo Alto."

Yes, the area collectively known as Silicon Valley, that self-styled center of innovation which is the theme of my thesis. Since Caltrain is here, we have to, absolutely have to, innovate it. Nothing less than our region's reputation is at stake. Reflexively repeating the solutions of the past century will not suffice.

"Caltrain has recently made major investments in electrifying the right of way, PTC and new train sets. JPB is not going to throw away that investment and take up the tracks because someone in Palo Alto thinks rail is outmoded."

Economists call that the Folly of Sunk Costs. It is a very common impediment to progress, and it has also led to some of the greatest debacles of all time. The obdurate prolonging of the Vietnam War comes to mind.

"Your repeated stumping here is futile and pointless. Get with the program, Auda."

I must concede the futile part.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Posted by Old Steve, a resident of St. Claire Gardens

>> the train really shines. I have been riding Caltrain since before it became Caltrain, so I am a booster, not a skeptic.

Hi Old Steve. I'm getting up there myself, and, I've been riding Caltrain off and on for quite a few decades. If you are interested in these capacity calculations, you might like to know that while the "standard" capacity of a highway lane is 1900-2200 cars per hour per lane, there is quite a lot of complicated stuff going on under the hood. ;-) Specifically, capacity peaks in an unstable way at about 50-55 mph at around 3800-3900 vehicles/hr, but, this is unstable-- as we have all seen in traffic-- which reduces capacity and results in constant instability. However, you can imagine that optimally designed automatic controls should be able to achieve that consistently, and, perhaps a little more -- as much as 4300 vehicles per hour if every vehicle was under standardized automatic control. See, for example:

Web Link

Now, in comparison, suburban commuter trains already achieve 25,000 passengers per hour per track seated comfortably, which can be boosted with better controls to 50,000 or more passengers per hour, per track. Times two, for example, if the Caltrain right-of-way had two tracks in each direction. Lots of sources for all kinds of capacity calculations, but, here is one older reference:

Web Link

There are a lot of variables that go into all these capacity calculations. Here is another online book chapter.

Web Link

The "bottom line" is, though, that although it is true that there are still significant improvements available in throughput for autos, "modern technology" considerations apply to rail transit as well, and, you can figure that trains utilize rights of way about an order of magnitude, 10X that is, better than single-occupancy cars.

Now, if you want to start an argument, you can compare an electric/hybrid minivan in a carpool lane with 10 people to an electric train. The minivan doesn't look bad in that case, but, single-occupancy-vehicle drivers -hate- carpool lanes. ;-)


4 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2019 at 5:21 pm

"Since Caltrain is here, we have to, absolutely have to, innovate it."

Why don't you begin the one-person campaign to completely reinvent mass transit on the peninsula? Sixteen municipalities in three counties, go right ahead. Call Elon Musk and see what he has on his drawing board. Flying cars? Flying trains? As soon as they're finished driving the last rivet for electrification, I'm sure workers will be ready to go to work on your brainchild.

Oh, and don't forget to factor HSR into your plans.

All these squeaky wheels and no grease.


4 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2019 at 5:28 pm

"Now, if you want to start an argument"

No, please don't, no.

We have enough conversations with lamp posts going on.


12 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Bocks
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 9:10 pm

"Why don't you begin the one-person campaign to completely reinvent mass transit on the peninsula?"

News flash. It's ongoing, beginning with the obvious (to me) point that the purpose of transit is to move people from their embarkation points to their destinations. That requires much more advanced approaches than the massive trackbound 19-th century "solutions" that the 20-th century repudiated midway through its course, but which the allegedly hyperadvanced Silicon Valley is spending billions to unmuseumize onto the elevated concrete altars called viaducts that the 20-th century repudiated at its end. Look forward, angel.


"We have enough conversations with lamp posts going on."

Not quite.. I'll take a lamp post instead of a dim bulb any time.


4 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2019 at 9:18 pm

@Ahem “Caltrain/PCJPB is not profitable”

Neither is Caltrans. Or highway 101. Or your local city streets. How is the profitability of Caltrain even remotely a consideration here, unless you are applying a shameless double standard based on tire material?

@Martin Engel “why doesn't BART replace Caltrain and complete a comprehensive, round the Bay, single rail carrier service?”

Sure that would be great. Here, I got some paint and did it for you: Web Link


22 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2019 at 3:59 pm

@Martin Engel “why doesn't BART replace Caltrain and complete a comprehensive, round the Bay, single rail carrier service?”

Please, God, no. We have enough crime here as it is.


9 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2019 at 4:41 pm

Caltrain isn't capacity constrained (I say that as a regular Caltrain rider). Fundamental flaw of Caltrain is that not all jobs are in SF and the major companies on the Peninsula and in the South Bay are nowhere near it.

It's not Caltrain's fault. Our suburban layout of everything between SF and San Jose is.

All these capacity calculations of rail are theoretical. For some folks like me, it does the job. But I'm also the first to tell you that for the majority of people on the peninsula, it doesn't help them at all.



6 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 7, 2019 at 5:26 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

@ Me 2:

I'm glad it works for you as well as it works for me when I need it. Whenever either of us use it, along with our fellow Caltrain passengers, we are not on 101 or 280 adding to the already heavy traffic in those corridors.


22 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Me2 said:

"It's not Caltrain's fault. Our suburban layout of everything between SF and San Jose is"

Well yes and no. Passenger rail was conceived in the 19th century when lightly populated urban centers were separated by a largely rural landscape and failed to transform its technology into something that could efficiently serve the evolving highly networked modern landscape.

It is not just the suburban layout of everything between SF and San Jose that passenger rail is ill conceived to serve. Passenger rail is also ill conceived to serve the highly networked modern urban layout of SF and San Jose themselves.

Should a transit system serve the population, or should the population serve the transit system?


5 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2019 at 7:06 pm

FWIW, I Caltrained to Moscone yesterday. Standing room only, both directions.


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2019 at 9:19 pm

"I Caltrained to Moscone yesterday. Standing room only, both directions."

Was it a baby bullet? Did your trip originate in Palo Alto?

I won't drive to the city any more. The added cost of Uber/Lyft/taxis justifies not having to battle traffic and deal with parking.


7 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Feb 7, 2019 at 11:47 pm

The notion that we will build a cross-city viaduct and free up a cross-city greenway must have been written by somebody who did not look at the plans. The current viaduct plan is only under consideration from San Antonio to just North of Meadow, not even to Loma Verde. We would still have Alma street (a much bigger impediment than CalTrain to travel across the corridor.) The only access to the "greenway" would be at Meadow and Charleston. Who would use that? Bicyclists can use Park Blvd now, about 150 feet away. Recreational Walking next to CalTrain and Alma is not popular - who do you see on the Alma sidewalk now? It seems like an awful lot of money for a glorified dog run, and even the dog walkers would probably prefer Peers' Park. Extending the viaduct idea cross town would make this much more expensive, like the Tunnel, not like the Berm. I'm liking the cheap Berm for Charleston and Meadow, wait and see on Palo Alto Ave and Churchill, and then spending that money we saved looking for capital improvements for Embarcadero or University, or for another bike/ped crossing. But really, the problem for Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill is Alma, not Caltrain.


2 people like this
Posted by Mawris
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2019 at 5:56 am

Again, the grade-separation project should extend no further north than Matadero creek.

The three crossings north of Matadero creek are already grade separated: Oregon, Embarcadero and University. Why waste millions grade-separating crossings that don't need it?


6 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2019 at 9:49 am

The viaduct alternative over Meadow and Charleston is unlikely to survive a cost benefit analysis.
If the viaduct alternative were to cost an additional $50 million, many residents would conclude that it would be better value for money to spend that $50 million on a pedestrian/bicycle underpass at Churchill and widening Embarcadero.


6 people like this
Posted by Auda D. Bocks
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2019 at 3:58 pm

"The viaduct alternative over Meadow and Charleston is unlikely to survive a cost benefit analysis."

No surprise. It proposes a mile of very expensive blight to address a purported problem that exists on only about 2% of that distance. Urban rail viaducts (which are being/have been torn down, BTW) have a much greater utility factor.


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2019 at 3:12 pm

Goodbye to HSR on the peninsula!

Web Link

And good riddance.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 13, 2019 at 10:56 pm

Finally, a groundling's view of an actual modern railroad viaduct: Web Link

fair That gorgeous piece of public art will surely bring the tourists flocking to our fair city.


4 people like this
Posted by Adi
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 10, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Viaducts have failed in recent times for the reasons folks listed above and more.
Look no further; Seattle is now going through the expensive process of tearing down the viaduct that runs through its downtown. What a waste of money and time. Let’s not make the same mistake.


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